The Kerala High Court today directed Air India to pay compensation of Rs.75 lakh each to the family of 158 passengers who died in last year's Mangalore air crash.
Justice P R Ramachandran Menon passed the order while allowing a petition filed by Abdul Salam and Ramla, parents of 24-year-old B Mohammed Rafi, who was killed in the crash.
In Delhi, Air India officials said the insurance companies would have to study the financial implications and not the airline.
"There is no financial implication for Air India because, if at all, this has to be paid by the insurance firms. We have already disbursed a total of Rs 57 crore as compensation to the next of kin of 74 people and there has been no dispute over it", the officials said.
158 passengers and crew on board the Air India aircraft from Dubai had perished in the worst air disaster in the last decade, when the plane caught fire after one of its wings hit a hillock at Kenjar in Mangalore.
There were 166 persons on board the flight IX-892, piloted by a Serbian national. Operating the Boeing 737-800, the pilot had first tried to land and later attempted to gain altitude.
The court held that the carrier was liable to pay no fault liability of one lakh SDR (Special Drawing Rights equal to Rs 75 lakh) to the petitioner. The SDR is a special currency issued by IMF. This is apart from whatever other compensation the petitioners are entitled to.
The petitioners prayed for a direction to settle the entire statutory claims made under the provision of the Air Act 1972 from the respondents on the death of Rafi. They had sought Rs 1.5 crore as compensation. Noting that India was a signatory to the Montreal Convention, the court said, "It is clear that the intention of lawmakers was to bring about a parity in the matter of
payment of compensation to the passengers, irrespective of class of travel, while providing for a 'two tier system' of compensation as adopted in Montreal convention."
"Since the extent of damage to any injury cannot be anything more than death", no further proof is necessary to have sanctioned the minimum compensation of "Rs one lakh SDR" in the case of death and this is the mandate of the Statute, it held.
The court said it was of the "firm belief" that Mohammed Rafi, who lost his life like the several others, was not liable to be discriminated by the respondents, restricting the compensation with reference to his age, income or the dependency of the members of the family.
The petitioners were entitled to have a "minimum of one lakh SDR" as compensation payable under the Statute based on the Montreal Convention treating the matter as "no fault liability" which can in no case be "absolved or limited by the carrier under any circumstances", it said.
About Rs 20 lakh has already been paid to the petitioners and the rest should be paid in a month's time, it added.
The petitioners said the deceased, working in UAE was returning home to Kumbala in Kasaragod in the ill-fated flight.
They said that the National Aviation Company, put forth an "unconscionable" demand, allegedly at the instance of their insurers, to come to a settlement for a total sum of Rs 35 lakh in full and final settlement.
Against this, the petitioners approached the High Court seeking a declaration and enforcement of their rights, referring to the mandate of the Montreal Convention.
The air crash was solely on account of lapse on the part of the pilot and in turn the sheer negligence of the National Aviation Company, they said.
Among the victims, 53 were Keralites, most of them from the northern districts of Kasargode and Kannur.